FORBES: 3 Tough Lessons From A Startup’s First Year

This post originally appeared in Forbes.

Earlier this month marked the one-year anniversary of VerbalizeIt officially becoming incorporated and closing our initial round of financing.

For most of us, this period also represented our one-year anniversary with the Company – and what a year it has been! Noteworthy accomplishments include: (I) transitioning into a business-to-business full service translation platform, (II) adding 15,000 new translators (III) interacting with thousands of business and individual customers and (IV) growing our stellar team. It has truly been a wonderful ride.

If I simply talked about startup achievements, then I would be overlooking the most important part of starting a business: learning from failure. In fact, we have learned orders of magnitude more from our mistakes than we have from our accomplishments. Below are our top three mistakes, resulting implications and corresponding lessons learned from this past year:

1. Driving Customer Engagement

A year ago we rolled out the first version of our live-interpretation app, which connected customers in need of instant access to an interpreter to a trained member of our interpreter community. We were filling — and continue to fill — a huge void between the traditional call-center market and machine translation technology. This initial product was extremely well-received and our company experienced some great media attention and significant app downloads, save for one key fact: our customers were surprised to actually connect with a live-person and hence were reluctant to become power-users.

In a world in which human-to-human interaction has been oftentimes been replaced with technology applications—think seamless web, online banking or kayak.com—we had to work hard to improve our messaging to inform our customers that their calls were being received by actual interpreters, not a machine translation technology. It wasn’t until we started surveying our customers on why calls were not being completed or even initiated that we realized our solutions lay in clearer upfront messaging and better customer engagement with our interpreters. Unfortunately, poor messaging and training early on, which could have been avoided through early customer focus sessions, cost us valuable time, resources and active users.

Now we’re iterating quicker to create the most enjoyable products and user experiences with our customer feedback at the core of all that we do.

2. Solving Supply and Demand

This is a basic economics 101 principal, but in a crowdsourcing model it’s much closer to rocket science. We started year one with 50 translators in the Philadelphia area. We ended year one with more than 15,000 translators and interpreters globally. Pacing this supply with the demands of our customer base has been challenging at times, particularly at the beginning of the year. Because our company is based on a robust and healthy translator community, we’ve had to dedicate ample time and resources to keeping these people, engaged, informed, and active. Six months in, we decided to flip supply and demand on its head.

We took a hard look at what our supply of translators could do to engage and grow our client base. We gave each translator a personal profile, launched a translator referral program, and connected our clients directly to their selected translator or interpreter. By tearing down the walls between supply and demand, we’re fostering a healthy but delicate balance to manage supply and demand growth.

3. Timing is Everything

We’ve been fortunate to secure some really strong partnerships with first-rate companies, headlined by Desk.com, American Airlines, Inspirato by American Express, Rosetta Stone, Travelport , and Skype. What we didn’t know a year ago, was that each of these would have to be handled differently and would take a different amount of time to secure.

Getting our API plugged into Desk.com’s customer service portal was seamless but took a year of thoughtful research to better understand their users through surveys and feedback. A year in the startup world is a long time but it gave us the opportunity to focus on securing other meaningful partnerships in the interim.

Pulling together an entire #FoundinTranslation campaign with Rosetta Stone and Children International to celebrate our appearance on Shark Tank, tested our marketing capabilities in more ways than we expected. We had Twitter, Facebook, and other social media channels in place, but there was no way to prepare for the amount of two-way conversation required to keep up with a Shark Tank, Rosetta Stone, and Children International’s following.

Over time we learned that rolling out new partnerships, especially those with larger and more structured organizations, almost always takes longer than expected and requires more resources than we initially thought. You have to be ready to accelerate or put on the brakes and continue to think strategically about what your partner wants while also being mindful of your own time and business needs.

What truly invigorated me a year ago and continues to drive me today is that the best is yet to come. Much of the handwork has yet to be demonstrated to the marketplace and our team is working hard to ensure that we can capitalize on the great opportunities ahead of us.

-Ryan Frankel

Ryan Frankel Image

Ryan Frankel is a 2012 TechStars alumnus, former private equity investor for Goldman Sachs and an endurance athletics enthusiast. You can reach him via e-mail at ryan.frankel@verbalizeit.com.

Here’s why I came to Washington, D.C. to push for immigration reform

The following post is a message our co-founder and COO, Kunal Sarda, shared with the FWD.us community today.

My name is Kunal Sarda, and this week I’m joining FWD.us in Washington, D.C. — along with over 600 other immigration reform supporters — to tell Congress why reform is important for this country.

In 2011, I co-founded the company VerbalizeIt to help people in need of translation services to connect with human translators from all over the world.

As a first generation immigrant to the U.S., I personally experienced how a clear immigration pathway allowed me to innovate and create a job not just for myself, but also for 14,000 other individuals in the U.S.

Unfortunately, I see hundreds of immigrant entrepreneurs, much smarter and more capable than me, who cannot pursue their innovations due to our outdated immigration system.

This is why I am in D.C. working to convince the leaders of our country that immigration reform will help move us forward.

But I can’t do it alone.

Help me make the case to Congress and call a key representative in support of immigration reform today.

Passing immigration reform is crucial to our continued prosperity because immigrants like me play a key role in the economic health of the U.S.

In fact, just in New York over 31% of businesses are owned by immigrants, generating an annual total of $12.6 billion in business income.

Similarly, creating a path to citizenship and expanding the high-skilled visa program would add more than $2.9 billion to New York’s economy in 2014.

Call Congress

It’s clear that immigrants are critical to our economy. That’s why, without reform, America could lose its competitive advantage in the world as other countries capitalize on our mistakes.

The strongest asset of the U.S. economy is its people, and we can keep it that way by modernizing our immigration system.

Call a key representative today in support of immigration reform.

Thanks,
Kunal Sarda

B Wbio Photo Kunalsarda

P.S. If you don’t have time to call a representative in Washington, D.C., take a moment to tweet at them instead and say that you’re #Ready4Reform.

How Does Your Translation Process Stack Up?

We’re asking hundreds of translation and localization managers how their translation capabilities stack up against their peers. As an added benefit, by filling out a short one-minute survey translation and localization managers will receive a month of VerbalizeIt for Business absolutely FREE.

Our goal is to help translation and localization managers better understand how their translation process compares to their peers. By answering 10 simple questions, we’ll provide a free month of VerbalizeIt and valuable insights to help with planning, budgeting, and process management of future translation projects.

If you are or know a translation or localization manager send them our way! For every person you send us that fills out the sixty-second survey we’ll give you $10 of VerbalizeIt translation minutes when you let us know. Share the survey or this blog!

5 Things to Look for in an Online Customer Support Platform

This post originally appeared on Yahoo!

Here in the United States, the call center industry is regarded as a first mover in the mass migration to offshore. This migration has moved from concept, to idea, to mega-trend in a matter of decades. In the last few years another concept has come to rival the offshore call center: online customer service.

Companies like Desk.com, Zendesk, UserVoice and others have cropped up to automate customer support systems through triggers, forums and client relationship management (CRM) plugins. What was once an office of employees fielding frustrated customer support calls is now a database full of automated emails. Alongside this rise in automated ticketing systems, we have seen a shift and increase in consumer expectation. Forrester Research reports that channel usage rates are also quickly changing: we’ve seen a 12 percent rise in web self-service usage, a 24 percent rise in chat usage, and a 25 percent increase in community usage for customer service in the past three years.

In short, the demand for dedicated customer support is growing into unknown territory, which begs the question: without training a call center, how do you offer the same accuracy of information and timely responses that a customer is accustomed to? There is no clear answer. But it helps to take these five steps when vetting a software-as-a-service (SaaS) or crowdsourced platform for customer support:

SLAs: Look for a clear and fair service licensing agreement (SLA). Specifically, the SLA should address any concerns you have around time of completion and percentage completed. For instance, check out Twilio, a company that offers telephony API, has a clear and fair SLA (which we appreciate as a customer of their platform!).

Certifications: Are members of the crowd certified? If so, by what governing body and how rigorous of a process is involved? Accenture reports that (depending on the definition) between one-fifth and one-third of American workers are now freelancers, contractors or temps, up from 6 percent in 1989. These people will be clamoring for certifications and those that have them will likely display them prominently to reflect their ability to focus on the task at hand.

Experience: Though often confused with certifications, experience is arguably more important. Since crowdsourced platforms are new and industry standards have yet to be established, there remains much room for interpretation of what a certification actually means beyond someone’s desire to earn one. Experience, however, is harder to fabricate. Place substantial value on those that have done a task or solved a problem before. 

Customer Feedback: Perhaps the most important element to look for is authentic customer feedback. Yelp made its business off of customer feedback, and companies like ZocDoc and TaskRabbit are following suit. The integration of customer opinions can come in a series of forms (ratings, comments, surveys, etc.) and companies who display authentic customer feedback transparently are likely either delivering a superior product or paying attention to their weak points. If you do not see customer feedback displayed publicly, ask the company why not. If they do not have an answer (or fail to answer) you have likely weeded out a crowdsourcing company. 

Test Drive: Finally, try before you buy. Any company worth their salt will offer you a chance to test the system. If a company is requiring you to buy the product first, you are better off finding a competitor.

Certain companies have gotten this right from the start. MailChimp, an email service provider whose motto is “Listen Hard. Change Fast.” is a leading example of a company embracing the automated ticketing system. Without a phone line, MailChimp anticipates exactly what their clients are looking for before their clients have issues. Their extensive database of articles, clean user interface, and streamlined email ticketing system, make for a good experience that is customer-centric.

Bio Photo Ryanfrankel

Ryan Frankel is the CEO of VerbalizeIt, a company that delivers real-time access to human translators to make sure that nothing is ever lost in translation. VerbalizeIt empowers businesses and travelers with the ability to translate a document, audio or video file, or connect with a live translator any time of day, anywhere in the world and from any device or application.

How Translation Glossaries Work

We’re proud to announce that we now support the use of customer translation glossaries for use in our text translation services to help our customers save time and money.

Translation Glossaries

Customers can now create a translation glossary to include domain specific terminology, along with the desired translation in one or more languages. If a translation glossary is attached to a translation task, our translators will ensure to incorporate these terms correctly when performing their translations.

Translation glossaries can be created and managed from the VerbalizeIt customer dashboard and can be used from as little as one translation task to hundreds. Our crowdsourced model allows you to scale at the rate that best fits your business needs.

Translation glossary files must be uploaded in a simple .csv (comma separated value) format, and can be easily created using Microsoft Excel (export as .csv), or even in a basic text editor.

Here’s an example of glossary file in practice:

Glossary Demo

(Glossary file example download)

If you’re ready to translate your text files into multiple languages sign up today or contact us to learn more.

Google Translate Alternative

We constantly have clients who have come to us due to failures with machine translation. Law firms, financial firms, audio and video agencies, and ad firms often find that although the price of machine translation is appealing, the quality is far lower than what they need. We’re asking our 15,000+ translators about what they value and how human translation compares to machine translation. Here is what our translator think of the comparison between machine translation and human translation.

Question: Where do you think machine or automated translation like Google Translate is lacking most?

Answer: “For what concerns the languages I speak, I think Google Translate’s biggest hurdle is that it can’t translate a sentence’s full meaning, with all of its “nuances” and implications. Automated translations are getting grammatically better and better, but we as translators know very well that good grammar isn’t enough to translate the full meaning of a sentence.”

Answer: “Connotations are something that a machine cannot easily translate; also in the field of philosophy or humanities there are concepts that have not a straight translation. And of course the slight differences based upon dialects and context can not be apprehended by machines. Then syntax can be too tight in machine conversion, as in phrasal clusters or cultural references which need an adaptation to the source culture.”

Answer: “Context is definitely lacking. Sometimes it can take looking at more than just the context of the sentence being translated to see what the person was trying to say. This is still not possible for a computer to do. So many words can be translated into so many different words based on the context.”

We then asked our translators to let us know which of our core values—(I) Reliability, (II) Quality, and (III) Transparency—matters most to them when translating?

Not surprisingly, 100% said “Quality” was the most important VerbalizeIt Value. Learn more about our values and how we operate in the video below and sign up for VerbalizeIt today to get an alternative to Google Translate!

We’re Reimagining Qualitative Research and Providing Live Interpretation, On-Demand

On Monday we announced that we’re teaming up with InsideHeads, a full-service online market research company, to offer clients the opportunity to hear live audio interpretation of online chat-based discussions. Our human-powered translation platform interprets live chats in real-time so clients don’t miss a beat, even when the research groups are conducted in a language they don’t understand.

     
Inside Heads         +            
Verbalize It Faces (Square)

InsideHeads has been working in the research space for more than 15 years and offers “back-room” observers of online focus groups an audio line to hear a professional from VerbalizeIt interpret, word-for-word, as live participant chat scrolls on the screen. Observers can now quickly and easily consult privately with the moderator during the live research group. We’ve made interpreters available in nearly a dozen languages—Arabic, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, and Spanish—and we couldn’t be more thrilled to help InsideHeads grow their international business.

In preparation for this years Qualitative Research Consultants Association meeting in San Diego, California, we’re working with InsideHeads to offer attendees an exclusive 20% off of our interpretation, translation and interpretation services. Members can receive this coupon and sign up for a free demo at www.verbalizeit.com/qrca

Translating Legal Documents into Any Language

Language Barrier in the Legal Industry

Legal services span a myriad of industries from healthcare to business and policy-making. In response to our interconnected global economy, the international legal industry is looking to expand its language offerings and reach new clients in new legal systems. As emerging markets find themselves more deeply intertwined with developed nations, international litigations continue to grow more frequent and firms of all sizes must remain ready to navigate across language barriers.

The Problems Law Firms Face

Legal “discovery” can cost time and money. Most of the documents are written in different languages and need to be reviewed and translated in a time-sensitive manner. Pursuing litigation in an international context without language support often ends in exhausted budgets and eventually settling at a loss. Moreover, the lack of a comprehensive solution ensuring both quality and quick turnaround time remains a persistent issue for litigators.

VerbalizeIt’s Legal Language Solution

VerbalizeIt’s network of specialized translators and interpreters combine the necessary blend of legal expertise and localized knowledge to deliver accurate and timely legal translation at scale. VerbalizeIt’s offers include: e-discovery, document review, and customized support for managing workflow at a competitive price point for any law firm. 

Sign up for VerbalizeIt to use and translate legal document into any language.

Translating Legal Files

Translating Trust in the Cloud: How to find the highest level of confidentiality and quality when evaluating cloud and crowdsourcing platforms

This article originally appeared on Wharton Magazine’s website. You can read the original version here.

No matter how you refer to the Internet—the cloud, the Web or the information superhighway—the reality is that if it has not disrupted your industry yet, it will. Companies that are slow to adapt to technology are fast losing to competitors who are using the Internet to cut costs and increase scale. In order to compete in today’s global economy, companies must embrace the Internet not as an ancillary tool but as a core component. Mirroring the proliferation of the Internet, two other phenomena have altered the way in which we go about our daily lives: globalization and big data.

Cisco Systems Inc. has distilled these two phenomena into one simple phrase: “the Internet of everything.” Cisco’s mission is to help companies, individuals and governments make the “valuable connections [that] will change the world.” In today’s rapidly changing world, the Internet renders the five-year business plan obsolete and encourages companies to embrace globalization and big data now rather than in the future—when it could be too late.

The McKinsey Global Institute predicts that using big data effectively in the U.S. health care industry alone could lead to the equivalent of $300 billion in value every year. European government administrators could save more than $149 billion in operational efficiency by using big data, McKinsey estimates. It’s ironic, but in a global economy where data is king, industries dependent on quality and confidentiality find themselves working alongside hackers, coders and statisticians.

Many corporations realize the benefits of operating in the cloud and the advantages of cost, speed and scale the cloud offers. But most companies have yet to realize they can embrace more of what the Internet has to offer without sacrificing the confidentiality and quality their industries depend on.

Caution is not entirely a bad thing. Take a software as a service (SaaS) or a crowdsourced platform as an example. When assessing it before embracing its power, corporations should consider three things about that SaaS or crowdsourced platform:

  1. Safety and Security. When using any online platform, safety and security are important. When using software as a service or a crowdsourced platform, safety and security are critical. Be sure to ask how much information the platform can handle and how secure the information is.
  2. Reliability. The key here is to try before you buy. Any good software as a service or crowdsourcing company will offer you a chance to test the system or obtain a realistic quote. If the company requires you to buy the product first, find a competitor.
  3. Availability. Your customers never stop moving and neither should your business. In today’s global marketplace, the chance of serving a new customer or international client is never far away. When vetting a SaaS or crowdsourcing platform, be sure vendors offer you global support and ask if they have the ability to expedite or execute on rush orders so that you can better serve your clients.

—Kunal Sarda, WG’11

@sardakunal

B Wbio Photo Kunalsarda

Three Questions To Ask Before Investing In Cloud-Based Software

This article originally ran in Forbes. You can read the original version here

Forbes Logo

When using any cloud-based platform, safety and security are important. When using a cloud-based platform powered by people, safety and security are critical. In recent memory we’ve seen T.J. Maxx, LinkedIn, Sony, and even the Pentagon victimized by hackers and online theft, amounting to millions in lost revenue and tax dollars — and millions more in lost consumer confidence. Simultaneously, we’ve seen the rise of crowdsourcing platforms like AirBNB, Kickstarter and ZocDoc, which run on trust between users within cloud-based platforms.

Luckily, you do not have to be a developer to know what kinds of technical questions to ask before committing to new software. The general rule of thumb is that the technology should provide a seamless user experience and assuage your security concerns every step of the way. To vet the technical safety and security of any cloud-based platforms for your business, ask these three questions first:

Question: How much work can the platform handle?

Answer: Arguably one of the single biggest benefit of cloud-based platforms (and the crowdsourcing platforms for that matter) is the ability to scale. Cloud-based platforms that cannot meet the needs of your growing business are not worth your time. The best cloud-based platforms expand and contract to meet your company or client’s needs without sacrificing confidentiality or quality.

Example: Uber, a car service company that connects you to drivers at the tap of a button, has taken scalability to a new level. A professional driver of your choosing can be alerted to your need anytime and in a few minutes, you’ll have the ride you need without losing any of your confidential information.

Question: How does the platform educate you on how to use the product?

Answer: Cloud-based platforms that allow you to submit your own work are great; cloud-based platforms that allow you to both submit your own work and address your questions along the way are even better. Be sure to look for platforms that do not merely tell you what to do, but show you as well.

Example: Optimizely is an A/B website testing platform with a first-rate onboarding tutorial and ongoing customer service. It’s clear how to use their tools from day one and becomes more intuitive each time after that. Look for software companies that are constantly teaching you to be a better user.

Question: What analytics do they track and what test do they run?

Answer: Any good cloud-based company should constantly be testing their systems. It makes no difference what software platform the company is running on. What matters is that they are constantly improving every side of their company — think customer, crowd, and technology — through rigorous analysis.

Example: Companies like AirBNB and Khan Academy are using MixPanel’s powerful analytics to learn about their customers’ activity, make adjustments to their offerings, and ultimately create a better product.

Startups that ask these questions upfront before investing in new software will drastically reduce their security risk, not to mention gain reliability, stability and more accurate data.

Ryan Frankel Image

Ryan Frankel is the co-founder and CEO of VerbalizeIt.
You can follow him on Twitter at @rvfrankel